The old Kowloon Restaurant & Bakery has been an iconic destination in London for a couple of generations of Singaporeans. For decades, Singapore Airlines staff who came to London, whether one was a cabin crew or administrative staff, would pack dozens of the bakery’s famous “char siu” buns to bring back to Singapore for their colleagues, friends and relatives. That was how I ended up in Kowloon Bakery one day back in 1992, with an order from my Singapore Airlines colleagues to get some of the buns for them when I flew back - 40 of the buns, in fact. We had nothing like that in Singapore at the time.
Back in the 80s & 90s, Kowloon Bakery had the softest, fluffiest buns, filled with moist, tasty “char siu” (caramelised BBQ pork) in portions larger than anything we’d ever seen in Singapore, Hong Kong, or anywhere in Asia. Today, every other Chinese bakery in Chinatown does similar-sized “char siu” buns, and some of them tasted even better than Kowloon Bakery’s! But I’d still go back to Kowloon Bakery even now - more out of a sense of loyalty, coupled with a big dose of nostalgia.
Anyhow, this is my current rating of which are the best “char siu” buns in Chinatown at the moment.
#1 Golden Gate Cake Shop
13 Macclesfield Street, London W1D 5BR, UK
Tel: +44 20 7287 9862
Opening hours: 10.30am-9pm daily
Fluffy, moist buns, especially good when fresh out of the oven, with sweet, caramelly BBQ pork filling. Their version ticks all the boxes.
#2 Kowloon Restaurant & Bakery
21-22 Gerrard Street, London W1D 6JH, UK
Tel: +44 20 7437 1694
Opening hours: 10am-10pm daily
Kowloon Bakery still has the moistest, softest buns in town - have them while they are warm. The “char siu” filling, though, seems to be almost cloyingly sweet nowadays, and the meat could have been better marinated compared to Golden Gate’s version. Their Cantonese-style egg tarts are as good as I remember them for the last 3 decades.
#3 Chinatown Bakery
7 Newport Place, London WC2H 7JR, UK
Tel: +44 20 7287 7995
Opening hours: 10am-9.30pm daily
This popular, busy bakery seems to be doing a roaring business nowadays purveying Japanese-style taiyaki - fish-shaped waffles filled with mashed red beans or other types of filling.
Its “char siu” buns are still one of the best in town, and which I’d rate behind just Golden Gate and Kowloon’s. The “char siu” here is more like pulled pork, rather than the chopped/finely-cubed pork I’d associate with the traditional “char siu bao”, steamed Cantonese buns with “char siu” filling which are the forerunner of pseudo-Western baked “char siu” buns.
#4 Far East Bakery and Restaurant
13 Gerrard Street, London W1D 5PS, UK
Tel: +44 20 7437 6148
Opening hours: Sun-Thu 9am-3.30am, Fri-Sat 9am-4.30am
One of the oldies here (it’s been around since 1962) and offers a whole range of Cantonese cafe/“cha chaan teng” food items, although my Singaporean and HK friends tend to come here for their deep-fried Chinese crullers/youtiao and sweet soybean curd/douhua.
Far East’s “char siu” buns are more bread, less filling. Get your buns here if, and only if, the other three spots are closed.